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Precursors

Pre-cursors, typing was trickier

You could call it the Mass Effect effect if you were willing to bend history a little to make your theory fit. After a few fallow years, it seems that Epic Space Games are no longer an endangered species. Precursors, for example, heads off and explores a galaxy that's been ignored pretty much since - ooh - Mercenary III circa 1992.

It's a sister game to White Gold, Deep Shadows' spiritual sequel to their expansive (and expansively broken) South-American GTA/Adventure/FPS game Boiling Point, and based on the same technology. As ambitious as White Gold is, Precursors goes even further. So as opposed to a series of islands off the coast of South America, we have a solar system of planets, each with its own inhabitants, flora and fauna. Plus space-stations and God knows what else.

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It's a hyper-developed first-person shooter, with a light roleplaying element stuck on - like Deus Ex. As you gain a level, you pick up quirks which boost your skills in a given area. For example, your pistols or rifles do more damage. There's a mass of more unusual abilities, such as being able to bluff it out if you're spotted by a guard or hold your alcohol better. And if you read last month's White Gold preview, you'll recognise the system.

You're playing a character with similar abilities, in a completely different world full of different characters, weaponry and vehicles. Rather than swanning around a shanty-town at the edge of a jungle with your trust AK-47, getting a mission from a local boatman before driving off to solve his problem in your old Cuban-style motorcar, you'll be swanning around a spaceport on a desert world with your trusty biological weapon which demands to be fed live things to continue to fire, getting a mission from a local cybernetic scientist before stomping off in your enormous mechanical exoskeleton. Well, actually, enormous-robo-machines are rare, but you do get hoverbikes and Halo-esque buggies.

Amusingly, the one area where Precursors is more down to earth than White Gold is its airborne units. You'll find few of these when you're planetside. That's because when it becomes to aerial endeavours, Precursors is aiming at a higher target. The crucial difference between the two games is a Big Place. The Biggest Place, in fact: space.

Rather than just auto-travelling between worlds, you're put in the pilot's seat of your ship, and enter a Freespace-styled space-sim. You can move freely and explore, getting in trouble with pirates, trading, upgrading your vessel and so on. So it's Deus Ex meets KotOR meets Freelancer. See what I mean about 'ambitious'?

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But I've a fear that Deep Shadows may have bitten off too much. While White Gold has the advantage of all the lessons they learned from Boiling Point, with this - bar the shared tech and some lessons learned, ie, not making an enormous game with just 13 people - they are starting from scratch.

It wouldn't be at all surprising to see Precursors slip from its estimated release date. In fact, some small slippage could even be taken as a good sign. Better a delay in countdown than risking a brave-looking vessel exploding on takeoff.

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